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Nancy Pearcey's "Love Thy Body" - Part One

Dr. Craig discusses Nancy Pearcey's newest book and an interview with her.


KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, a couple of your colleagues at Biola had a chance to interview Nancy Pearcey on their podcast.[1] Sean McDowell and Scott Rae. You know Nancy.

DR. CRAIG: Nancy is one of my colleagues at Houston Baptist University.

KEVIN HARRIS: She has written a new book called Love Thy Body. In fact, it is getting a lot of people’s attention.

DR. CRAIG: Yes! It is a provocative title!

KEVIN HARRIS: She says a lot in this interview. Let’s see if we can condense it down and kind of get to the meat of what she is talking about. I like the beginning of this interview where she talks about as a young person she wanted solid answers for why Christianity was true, and she decries the fact that some of her professors and teachers just said, Hey, it works for me! They didn’t give her the answers that she needed. So quite on her own she began to study the intellectual foundations for the faith and became involved in apologetics. Francis Schaeffer had a real impact on her. Cultural apologetics, I think, is what Nancy really excels in.

DR. CRAIG: As I look at the contents of this book it would be about what I might call sexual apologetics, that is to say, a defense of a Christian view of human sexuality and the body. I do agree with her that this is a vital part of Christian apologetics. It's not one that I myself am engaged in. She points out in the interview that people are no longer asking the question, “Is Christianity true?” which she earlier said was the question she as a young person asked. “How do I know Christianity is true?” That's the question that Reasonable Faith is dedicated to answering or helping people to discover an answer to. But she says people aren't asking, “Is Christianity true?” They're asking, “Why are Christians such bigots?” And for me, while that's an important question, it's not the most important question. The most important question is and always will be, “Is Christianity true?” So the focus of our ministry has been on that question – the truth question – because I want to leave behind a legacy of work in the way that Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and William Paley did that will be timeless in its utility and application. But, having said that, I'm really glad that someone else at least is working on these sorts of questions.

KEVIN HARRIS: Absolutely. I came to the same conclusion that Nancy did when I was preparing for this podcast. When I'm looking around Facebook and I'm looking at certain blogs, people who interact with Reasonable Faith, this is what they want to know. I mean this is the hot issue right now – transgenderism. She says the same thing here. Sean says, Tell us why you wrote the book Love Thy Body, and she says,

Well it certainly covers the topics that are on the front burner today. They are the water shed moral issues of our day. The book is about abortion, assisted suicide, homosexuality, transgenderism, and so on. And these are the headline issues of our day. I find that more people want to know answers to these questions than just about any other. . . . What I do in Love Thy Body, the heart of it is, we tend to deal with these issues individually, assisted suicide, homosexuality, transgenderism and so on, one by one. And you find that we will be much more effective if we get behind the details of each one, and it turns out they all share a common underlying worldview.

So there's a worldview, she says, that underlies all of these hot-button issues. Scott says,

Give us a little bit of a sense of how the body has been viewed so historically in Western culture, and then in the church as well. Because it sounds to me from reading the book, you're trying to correct a defective view of the body that has really deep roots, culturally and in the life of the church.

Nancy says,

Right. It has such deep roots, that I find it’s easier if I just start with an example. So if you take something like abortion, what most people don't realize is that your view of abortion rests on your view of the body. I would say most bioethicists today, most professional bioethicists, agree that the fetus is human from conception. The data from DNA and genetics is just too strong to deny it anymore. But what they say is that the fetus is not yet a person until it attains a certain level of cognitive awareness, cognitive functioning, and so on.

Well, what does it mean to be human then? If it's human, but not a person, as long as it's just human it's just a disposable piece of matter. It can be, you know, killed . . . harvested . . .[sellable body parts, and so on] . . . when we help people recognize that all of secular ethics really rests on a low view of humanity, and so as Christians we are arguing for a much higher view of the value and significance of the human being, of the human body, as we might say. In abortion, the idea is as long as it's still just a body and not a person, it has no value.

So I guess that's the underlying worldview there.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, and here's where I would tend to disagree with my colleague, Nancy Pearcey. It seems to me that secular ethics is not predicated upon a low view of the body because they identify a human being with his body. They deny typically the existence of the soul, and therefore I just am my body. So it's not a low view of the human body. On the contrary, it seems to me that it identifies a human being with his body. Now, by contrast, the Christian, I think here, is in a much more difficult position because I think that the Christian is committed to a form of substance-dualism which says that there is a soul distinct from the body and the body derives its moral value from being en-souled. It has a human soul, and that's what makes my body morally valuable compared to the body of a chimpanzee or a gorilla. These are not to be treated in the same way because they are not persons. They are not en-souled. So the Christian, I think, is actually the one that's in the more difficult position here because a human body without its soul is just a relatively advanced primate humanoid organism similar to a gorilla or a chimpanzee. So what would make abortion wrong is that it is killing a body-soul human being, this composite. Now, that would require you to think that the fetus is endowed with a soul from conception – that from conception on we have here a complete person. So where one disagrees with the secularists is not in investing the body with intrinsic value. It's rather in saying that personhood derives from having a human soul rather than developed cognitive awareness. So it's wrong to say that the fetus is a potential person. Rather, it's better to say the fetus is a person with potential. The fetus is an en-souled human being with the potential to develop cognitive awareness as it develops, and therefore intrinsically valuable and the bearer of human rights. But I think it's a mistake for Nancy to try to say that the human body itself is somehow intrinsically morally valuable and that this is where Christians differ from secularists. It’s the secularists that are the reductionists and the monists about human beings. They identify a human being with his body, and therefore if they think that human beings are valuable they would think that the body is valuable. It's an exalted, and I think too high, view of the body that they have. Where they differ would be in thinking that the body that is in the fetus isn’t truly human because it hasn't developed cognitive awareness. It may be biologically human but it's not a human person in their view.

KEVIN HARRIS: Boy, that is tough.

DR. CRAIG: These are very difficult questions.

KEVIN HARRIS: For one thing, I'm sure that Nancy would agree in that a tactic that we often discuss is that if you're going to be in the public forum – if you went on CNN or MSNBC as an interview – you would want to make a so-called secular or a non-religious argument to make your case rather than just punt immediately to the religious or the Christian argument. And this may be what Nancy is trying to do here a little bit; that is, make an argument that secularists can appreciate because they won't appreciate anything about the soul. If you were to go on CNN and they ask about that, you would have to defend the soul, substance-dualism, and then defend the body. You wouldn't have time to do it.

DR. CRAIG: And it makes it even more difficult for the Christian because if you think that the soul is somehow connected to the body later than conception than prior to that union, the body would be disposable because it wouldn't be a person at that point. But the difference between the human body and a person, I think, is clear and essential – there is a difference between the body and a person. I am not my body.

KEVIN HARRIS: One quick word here about euthanasia. I never really thought about this. Assisted suicide and things like that is that it's the abortion argument in reverse. The abortion argument says prior to having these cognitive facilities and functions that make us a person so you can kill that thing; euthanasia and assisted suicide is when one loses those cognitive functions and those things that make one a person then you can destroy that.

DR. CRAIG: That's the secular view. That's right. It's the mirror image of abortion. And what I want to say is that even though the person may have lost some of his capacities like cognitive awareness, he's still a person because he is an en-souled human being and therefore intrinsically valuable and worthy of respect.

KEVIN HARRIS: “So the upshot is the sheer fact of being biologically human no longer guarantees human rights.” And this is a drastic devaluation of what it means to be human. You are commenting here, though, on where you disagree.

DR. CRAIG: Yes. Where I disagree is that she doesn't seem to want to make this distinction between the person and his body, and that distinction I think is vital and I think it's very clear, too. A human body without a person is, just as I say, like an advanced primate. And what makes us human is that we have human souls. So I think there is a distinction between a person and his body, but I would agree with her that what makes you a person is not cognitive awareness. You can be a person who has yet to come to cognitive awareness or who has lost cognitive awareness or who's impaired in his cognitive awareness due to brain damage, for example, but you're still a person and therefore intrinsically valuable. But I think it's a mistake to try to identify our intrinsic value as human beings with our physical bodies.

KEVIN HARRIS: The next topic that comes up, Scott Rae asks her: does the church have any blame for taking a low view of the body theologically? Nancy says,

Well, I find this a lot with both Christians and secular people. When I say that the secular ethics rest on a low view of the body, their first reaction tends to be, “Wait a minute. The low view of the body in modern culture is not a product of secularism. It's a product of Christianity.” And they have some-what of a point.

DR. CRAIG: Yeah, I think that's right. I think there's no doubt that a low view of the human body has often been associated with Christianity, and moreover, what I've just said implies, again, that the body is not fundamentally the source of our value as human beings. It is from the soul – it's in virtue of being en-souled that our bodies have rights that must be respected. So I can sympathize here with the secularist point, but it seems to me that on the secularist view which just identifies a person with his body they have no basis for affirming human value or human rights because it's just like another animal that's somewhat advanced in its nervous system – a complicated electrochemical machine on a secular view.

KEVIN HARRIS: Good luck handling that. Obviously this brings up Gnosticism in the church. I think you can comment on the early Gnostics that viewed anything material or the body as evil. But the early church fought against that view.

DR. CRAIG: That's absolutely right. Think of St. Augustine who was a Manichaean before he became a Christian. Manichaeans believed that the body is inherently evil, that material is evil, and only the spirit is good. And the church was adamant in rejecting these Gnostic and Manichaean views of the body which thought of the material world as something evil and to be disparaged and put aside. Clearly this is repudiated in Christianity because of the doctrine of the incarnation and resurrection of Christ. God himself takes on a human body in the incarnation which is an affirmation of its worth and value. And then he's not content simply to ascend into heaven and leave his body in the tomb; rather, he raises the body from the dead, invests it with supernatural powers, and takes this glorified, physical body into eternity – a permanent affirmation of the worth of materiality and its essentiality to the completeness of a human being. We're not just unembodied souls. We are souls intimately united with a human body.

KEVIN HARRIS: Nancy goes on to say that's why the incarnation was scandalous. It went against Gnosticism and it was foolishness to the Greeks, as Paul put it – that God, the supreme deity, would condescend and take on human flesh which was viewed as inferior. So she does bring up the incarnation there. Later on she talks about the resurrection – the new heaven and the new earth. Finally, she says, “What is the Christian teaching about the end of the world? It says that God is not going to scrap the material world as though he made a mistake the first time.” She appeals here to the new heavens and the new earth, and that the Apostles Creed affirms the resurrection of the body. It's not like God said, OK, Satan you won the physical. You can have that, and I'll just do the spiritual from now on. But God is going to redeem both.

DR. CRAIG: Right.

KEVIN HARRIS: Sean says,

Nancy, you say that to assume the body gives no clue to our identity, and to what our sexual choices should be is quote, “profoundly disrespectful.” Now this runs right up against the narrative we here in our culture, that our feelings and self identity should trump the body. Yet you say actually the opposite. Could you explain what you mean by that to us?

She says,

I really . . . let me take it again, a specific example. Let's take something like homosexuality. On the one hand, no one really denies that on the level of biology, physiology, anatomy, biochemistry, no one denies that males and females are counterparts to one another. That's how the human sexual and reproductive system is designed. When a person engages in same-sex behavior then, implicitly, they're contradicting that design. They are saying, “Why should my moral choices be directed by the structure of my body? Why should my body, my identity as male or female, have any voice in my moral choices, what I do sexually?” And so, the implication is that all that counts really is my mind, feelings, and desires.

This is a profoundly disrespectful view of the body. It's basically saying, “My body is not part of my authentic self.”

DR. CRAIG: Right. Whereas on the Christian view we do think of human beings as body-soul composites that are intimately united, and therefore your body is important and you have a specific sex (male or female), and to deny that by homosexual activity or transgenderism, I think she's right, is to say that that disrespects the body because more fundamentally it's disrespecting God's design. It is God who has made us male and female, and therefore to disrespect the body is to disrespect God who made it.[2]


[2]          Total Running Time: 19:30 (Copyright © 2018 William Lane Craig)